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Crime and Punishment: Looking Back

Comparing the different punishments for crimes, compared to modern day crimes.

“Murder considered as one of the fine arts.” –Thomas De Quincey

During the sixteenth century punishment was cold and cruel. You could commence death for cheating on your husband. Today’s punishments are much more humane. In the sixteenth century you could be accused for witchcraft because you rolled your socks over, and if you were accused, you died.

            “Murder considered as one of the fine arts.” –Thomas De Quincey. During the sixteenth century this was especially true. The fine for murder was always death, which meant being an executer was like being a state official today. If you did commit a murder you could be branded with a hot iron featuring “M” for murderer then you where boiled alive, hung, or pressed.

First off being boiled alive was not the most pleasant experience, the would slowly lower you in a vat of boiling oil, being boiled alive was considered torture and be hung or beheaded was much preferred.  If you where hung they would tie a rope around your neck, the other end was affixed on a bar or tree limb, while you stood on a box and then they would kick the box from under you, causing you to snap your neck on the rope. Being pressed was also not a lovely experience, but what is in the sixteenth century. If you were pressed they would lay heavy weights on you chest until you suffocated. Today if you murdered someone you would jail time for the rest of your life, or if you’re lucky or you had a good case you could get off with at least twenty five years of prison and community service.

Next, If you steal something today you get 5-15 years of prison and minor or major community service depending on the theft. In the sixteenth century you pick pocketed and you got your hand chopped off.

 A minor crime in the sixteenth century was like pillaging a loaf of bread. For minor crimes you could be whipped, fined, or branded with a “T” for thief. A major crime was like stealing a pig and could result in being hung. Today you would be arrested, sent to court, and most likely do jail time.

the offense of acting to overthrow one’s government or to harm or kill its sovereign.” During the sixteenth century treason was a very serious and bad thing, bad thing for the person charged that is. If you committed treason, like claiming you are the king, speaking against the king, or even disrespecting your husba

nd (In the sixteenth century your husband was considered king and if you disrespected him in anyway it was treason), then you could be burnt at the stake, branded with a “T” for treason then killed, or hung. Today treason doesn’t really exist, we have a right to speak our mind. Of course if you shoot the president or harm him badly you will most likely go to jail for the rest of your life but other then that treason doesn’t really exist anymore.   

            Lastly vagrancy, vagrancy means begging. People in the 16th century were afraid of beggars. The punishment for vagrancy was humiliation. You could be hot ironed with a “V” for vagrant, put in the stocks, or tied to a cart and whipped out of town. The stocks were a device to the hands and head. When you were put in the stocks you were put on a kind of stage setup and the townsfolk would rotten food at them. Today vagrancy is basically loitering. Loitering is standing or staying in one place for to long, like you hang out in a coffee shop to long and don’t buy anything. You can be arrested for loitering.

            As my conclusion I hope you can see the 16th century crime and punishments have changed dramatically in the past four hundred or so years. Today jail is the basis of all punishment, kind of like murder was the basis back then. Maybe if someone did a research on today amount of crimes vs. then, we could see how many steps closer we are to world peace.

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  1. Alexa

    On February 3, 2011 at 6:41 pm


    Hey. This is really good and helpful. Thank you. (:

  2. Alexa

    On February 3, 2011 at 6:44 pm


    It helped me with a research project. It was useful true and so greatly worded.

    I so wish copyright didn’t exist. Just kidding. This is excellent work. I’m glad you spent the time to do this, and inform people of the luck they have today for punishments to not be so cruel. Were spoiled. Just kidding.

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